Now that Spring is almost upon us – and saying that is a sure-fire way to guarantee blizzards – I’m looking forward to starting my mini tour of Scotland to promote The Red Light Zone. It starts this Thursday night at Waterstones in Inverness and through March there are three more Waterstones stores to visit: Aberdeen, Easterhouse and Perth. I’ll also be speaking at the Lochwinnoch Arts Festival and my old radio chums are trying to organise an event in Edinburgh. As if that wasn’t enough, I’ve got two lecture dates lined up. One is with the University of the Highlands and Islands in Inverness, and the other is slightly further afield; it’s in New York. But more on that another time.
I’ve been bowled over by the support I’ve had since we launched the book just three weeks ago. So many kind reviews and mentions on radio stations, blogs and newspapers.
I’ve even heard – but whisper this – that people are actually buying the book and in numbers that outstrip the tally of my friends and extended family. Real actual readers, in other words.
Anyway, soon be time to hit the road. My car passed its MOT test yesterday, so that helps. But in the next few weeks, if you see bedraggled hitch-hiker carrying an armful of paperbacks, please stop.
I’m so glad my tour of Waterstones bookshops next month is going to include their branch at The Fort in Easterhouse. These days it’s not exactly home turf, but certainly the turf of my childhood. I often draw incredulous looks when I tell people that my memories of the place are mostly happy. I laugh thinking about that clump of half a dozen trees off Easterhouse Road that we used to call ‘The Forest’ and how we used to know the names of every neighbour, including their dogs. Sandy was a gentle Alsatian and Laddie an unusually bad-tempered black Labrador.
Now that I’m a board member on the brilliant Platform arts group, I have good reasonto be in Easterhouse every month or so. It’s a place that always seems to be changing. Streets are demolished and rebuilt, as are my old schools. The flat where I was born (my dad delivered me two weeks earlier than scheduled) is still there, although the building has been remodelled and a top storey removed.
About twenty years ago, I made a documentary about Easterhouse and , in it, I told this story about pebble collecting, despite the absence of a nearby beach.
Colin Edwards, co-creator of the brilliant Franz Kafka Big Band, is also one of my favourite movie bloggers. In his recent critique of Mary Queen of Scots, he admits that British and Scottish history tends to make him glaze over, especially anything to do with Kings and Queens and succession. I don’t think he’s alone and, were it not for the passion of my late Auntie Jean and Uncle Jimmy, I doubt I would have grown up with any knowledge of Scottish history before World War 2. It was they who took me and my sister on tours of historic sites and battlefields around Stirling and Clackmannanshire and made the whole thing come alive.
Colin’s musings also reminded me of the time I persuaded journalist and former SuperScot presenter, Jane Franchi, to take part in the radio mocumentary I made about my alter ego, Johnny Sellotape. In one sequence, Johnny gets a last-minute invitation to appear on this famous BBC Scotland quiz show – a show which tested contestants’ knowledge of all things Scottish – and which regularly attracted record viewing figures.
But much like you can be sure of getting some correct answers on University Challenge by shouting “Shakespeare” , “Beethoven” or “Einstein” at the telly, Johnny had his own game-winning strategy …
Despite appearances, I’m not front page news in today’s edition of the Paisley Daily Express. Blame the cuttings service for that. I’m actually on page 4 and, as the photograph proves, I will need to get back in shape if I’m ever to make it to Page 3.
What I’m enjoying most about popping up in a paper read by Paisley ‘buddies’ is that I know it will cause maximum embarrassment to my daughter, who works in the local hospital there. This is sweet revenge for a story in yesterday’s Herald Diary in which her expertise as a radiographer allowed her to puncture my pomposity during a recent speech. Asked why I had left the BBC, I told an audience that there is such a thing as a ‘BBC Lifer’ . These are the folk who, it is said, you could cut them open and, much like lettered holiday rock, it would say ‘BBC’ all the way through. I explained that I never wanted to be a ‘Lifer’ and that if you cut me open it might just say ‘Radio’ all the way through.
My daughter, without recourse to her armoury of x-ray machines and scanners, disagreed . With some authority she vouchsafed the opinion that ‘if you cut my Dad in half, all you would see is fat and gristle.”
I’m looking forward to the launch of BBC Scotland’s brand new television channel at the end of the month and the new News programme – The Nine – boasts an incredible line-up of journalistic talent. A photograph of that line-up up has been on many websites and newspapers today and it reminded me of the time, back in 1998, when I tried to create the most impatient news programme every devised with a cast of talent that would be able to predict events before they happened.
Alongside journalists like Gary Robertson, Ken MacDonald and Maggie Shiels we recruited astrologer Lynne Ewart, comedian Bruce Morton, footballer and poet Jim Leishman and weather forecaster (and subsequent MSP) Lloyd Quinan. All our panellists had to do was match their predictions against the views of the public as sampled in an opinion poll. This Christmas special was intended as a pilot for what would have been called Next Week’s News and the format would have allowed us to test the accuracy of those opinions week by week.
Yet, it didn’t quite work. Too complicated? Too many panellists? A faulty crystal ball? Who knows?
But I’m sure The Nine and the new TV channel will be a roaring success. At least, that’s my prediction.
Ken Smith’s diary column in the Herald today picks up the story of my efforts to get video-conferencing equipment installed in the BBC’s Inverness offices. This, I was assured, would spare me from so many car and train journeys to and from Glasgow, but three years after moving Radio Scotland’s nerve centre to the Highlands, there was still no sign of the camera and screen. I stamped my feet, threw around terms like ‘carbon footprint’ and one day, the kit was installed in a meeting room. It was the same meeting room we used to store boxes of excess toilet rolls, but an angled sitting position and careful positioning of the camera made it look professional. All was not well, though, and it was only when we had tried and failed several times to make a link-up with colleagues in Pacific Quay that a technician explained that “you made such a fuss that we took the gear out of an office in Glasgow and gave it to you.”
At least I never suffered the embarrassment experienced by one of my radio chums who had been booked to make a video-conference appearance at a big management meeting in London. At the last minute, however, the Director General, Tony Hall, pulled rank and demanded use of that room to rehearse an important and ultra secret presentation about a big strategy shift for the corporation. Alas, someone forgot to cancel the video conference booking and Big Tony (I can call him that now) was well into his hush-hush spiel when my friend appeared on the massive screen, with his cheery face and Scottish voice booming out behind the D.G.’s head.
“Hallo London! Glasgow calling!”
Probably just as well that my friend couldn’t see the expression on the great man’s face.